According to a scathing 288-page investigative report released Sunday, leaders of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, have survived and discredited the sexual abuse of pastors for nearly two decades while seeking to protect their reputations.
These survivors and other concerned Southern Baptists repeatedly shared allegations with the SBC’s executive committee, “only to meet, repeatedly, resistance, stonewalling, and even some within the EC With complete hostility from the people,” the report said.
The seven-month probe was conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the executive committee, after representatives from last year’s national meeting pressed for an investigation by outsiders.
The report said, “Our investigation has revealed that, for many years, some senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, substantially controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse… And that alone focused on avoiding liability for SBC.”
“In service of this goal, survivors and others reporting abuse were ignored, mistrusted, or met with persistent avoidance that the SBC Church would take no action because of its politics regarding autonomy. could – even if it means that the convicted molesters continue in the ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report said.
The report claimed that an executive committee employee maintained a list of Baptist ministers accused of misbehavior, but there is no indication that anyone “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in power in SBC churches.” were not in position.”
The most recent list includes the names of hundreds of abusers who were thought to have been affiliated with the SBC at some point. Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers.
SBC President Ed Lytton said in a statement Sunday that he “grieves with my heart” for the victims and thanked God for the work he has done to lead SBC to this moment. He called on Southern Baptists to mourn and prepare to change the cult’s culture and implement reforms.
Referring to the California city that hosted the SBC national meeting on June 14-15, Lytton said, “I pray that Southern Baptists will begin preparations today to take deliberate action to address these failures and Will prepare a new curriculum.” ,
Among the key recommendations of the report:
– Establish an independent commission and subsequently a permanent administrative unit to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms relating to sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.
– Build and maintain a criminal information system to alert the community to known offenders.
– Provide a comprehensive resource toolbox including protocol, training, education and practical information.
-Prohibit the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements, which oblige the survivor to confidentiality in cases of sexual abuse unless requested by the survivor.
The interim leaders of the Executive Committee, Willie McLaurin and Roland Slade, welcomed the recommendations, and promised to do everything possible to eliminate sexual abuse within the SBC.
“We believe there are no shortcuts,” he said. “We must all meet this challenge through judicious and prayerful use, and we must do so with Christlike compassion.”
The executive committee is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the report.
The sexual abuse scandal came into limelight in 2019 by a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, with many alleged perpetrators remaining in the ministry.
Last year, thousands of delegates at the national SBC assembly made it clear that they did not want the executive committee to oversee the investigation of their actions. Instead they voted overwhelmingly to create a task force charged with overseeing third-party reviews. Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saarland, Alabama, appointed the panel.
The task force had a week to review the report before its public release. Task force recommendations based on the guidepost’s findings will be presented at the SBC meeting in Anaheim.
The report provides shocking details of how Georgia pastor and former SBC president Johnny Hunt sexually assaulted the wife of another pastor during a beach vacation in 2010. In an interview with investigators, Hunt denied any physical contact with the woman, but admitted to interacting with her.
On May 13, Hunt, who was senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, SBC’s domestic mission agency, resigned from that position, the organization’s president and CEO, Kevin Eizell, said. Ezel said, prior to May 13, he was “not aware of any alleged misconduct” on Hunt’s part.
The report details a meeting organized by Hunt days after the alleged assault between the woman, her husband, Hunt, and a counselor pastor. Hunt admitted to touching the victim inappropriately, but said, “Thank God I didn’t end the relationship.”
Among those who reacted strongly to the Guidepost report was Russell Moore, who formerly headed the SBC’s public policy wing but left the sect after accusing top executive committee leaders of stalling efforts to address the sexual abuse crisis. gave.
“Crisis is a very short word. This is an apocalypse,” Moore wrote for Christianity Today after reading the report. “As dark as my view of the SBC executive committee was, the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systematic than I had imagined.”
According to the report, investigators from Guidepost, who spoke with survivors of varying ages, including children, said survivors were equally traumatized by the way churches responded to reports of sexual abuse.
The survivors “spoke of trauma from the initial abuse, but also told us about the debilitating effects coming from the response of churches and institutions like the SBC, who did not believe in them, neglected them, abused them, and abused them.” failed to help,” the report said.
It cited the case of Dave Pittman, who made phone calls from 2006 to 2011 and sent letters and emails to SBC and the Georgia Baptist Convention Board, reporting that he was abused by Frankie Wiley, a youth pastor at Rehoboth Baptist Church. , when he was 12 years old. up to the age of 15 years.
Pittman and several others have come out publicly to report that Willie molested and raped them, and that Wiley admitted to abusing “multiple victims” in Georgia’s Southern Baptist churches.
Reportedly, a Georgia Baptist Convention official told Pittman that the churches were autonomous and there was nothing he could do except pray.
The report also tells the story of Krista Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teenager by the minister of youth and education at her SBC church.
When she disclosed the abuse to the music minister after months of abuse, she was told not to talk about it, according to reports, which said her abuser also served in Southern Baptist churches in several states. .
Brown, who has been one of the most outspoken survivors, told investigators she has received “a volume of hate mail, horrific blog comments, and vitriol phone calls during the past 15 years.”
After reading the report, Brown told the Associated Press that it “fundamentally confirms what Southern Baptist pastoral sexual abuse survivors have been saying for decades.”
“I view this investigation report as a beginning, not an end. The work will continue,” Brown said. “But anyone dealing with the sexual abuse of clergy should reach the beginning of this to the SBC. Let us never forget the human cost of what we had to do for him.”
need help? travel the rain National Sexual Assault Online Hotline either National Sexual Violence Resource Center website,